Stay Focused on God’s Purposes

Explore the Bible Series

April 22, 2007

 

Lesson Passage: I Peter 4:7-19

 

Introduction: First, a personal note.  I regret that I misread the Sunday School materials last week and did not outline the first six verses of Chapter Four.  My study, each week, focuses on linguistic concerns and consultation of two or three good exegetical commentaries. The theological challenges of the previous lesson energized my mind, and I simply overlooked the author’s inclusion of 4:1-6.

 

The first few verses of Chapter Four continue the themes signaled in the previous lesson.  Peter hoped beleaguered, persecuted Christians would find solace in his observations about the sufferings of Christ. He encouraged these believers to assume the same mindset as the Savior.  The statement about sufferings relationship to sin must be interpreted against the backdrop of Peter’s claims about baptism (3:21).  As Christ died for sins, believers must die to sin, and baptism marked the radical, internal transformation that characterizes conversion. This text (4:1) does not teach sinless perfection; rather, it describes the believer’s radical break with sin as a pattern and habit of life. Conversion marks a significant reversal of one’s life.  The passions that once served as the nerve-center of life, no longer control the believer.  The whole life has been redirected, and, after regeneration, the believer seeks the glory of God.

 

Peter outlined some of the ungodly passions that once governed the lives of his readers.

(1)   “sensuality”: indecency, outrageous behavior

(2)   “passions”: morally neutral word that denotes powerful desires.  In this context it describes sinful, controlling passions, lust, or covetousness.

(3)   “drunkenness”: the word means to overflow or bubble over.  It is used here to describe abuse of intoxicants.

(4)   “orgies”: this word has reference to pagan festivals that often degenerated into orgies of sex, gluttony, and drunkenness.

(5)   “drinking parties”: again, this term may reflect the pagan customs of Asia Minor.  The idolatrous rites of the Greeks and Romans became a staple of ancient Mediterranean culture, and, no doubt, some of these Christians, before their conversion to Christ, must have participated in these shameful celebrations.

(6)   “lawless idolatry”: the previous descriptors reflect the lawlessness that pervaded the idolatrous culture of the ancient world (and our own society).  This behavior, of course, violated the law of God, and the believers of Asia Minor, according top Peter’s precepts, had to abandon the sinfulness that characterized their previous manner of life.

This flood of debauchery made these revelers liable to the judgment of God (v. 5), and repentance from this life-style, even for those Christians who had died (perhaps as martyrs), accompanied their new life in Christ (v. 6).

 

 

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   Living with a View to the End (4:7-11)

A.    “The end of all things is at hand… (v. 7a): Some theologians think this statement refers to Peter’s anticipation of the destruction of Jerusalem, but this interpretive model does not seem plausible.  Peter, as we have seen, wrote this book to a predominantly Gentile audience, and it seems unlikely that impending destruction of Jerusalem would affect Gentile believers in the same ways it might Jewish converts to Christianity.  The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus inaugurated “the end of all things” (Romans 13:11-12; Philippians 4:5; Hebrews 10:23-25). New Testament eschatology encourages Christians to conduct their lives in light of the imminent return of the Savior. 

B.     Directives for living in light of the return of Christ (vv. 7b-11)

1.      “be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers” (v. 7b): Schriener claims that these two terms overlap and are almost synonymous.  Taken together these verbs call Christians to clear, sane, sober thought, even in the face of great hardship. This clarity of thought will anchor the prayers of the Lord’s people.

2.      “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly…” (vv. 8-9): Peter, a good student of human nature, knew that hardship placed a strain on human relations; therefore, he encouraged his readers to persevere in love for one another.  What, however, did Peter mean by the phrase, “love covers a multitude of sins”?  In my judgment, this phrase indicated that Christians love each other to such a degree that they do not easily mark the offenses of others.  Now please understand, this command does not call Christians to benign indulgence of sinful, abusive behavior; rather, it condemns prickly sensitivity that easily takes offense at the actions of others.  In addition, Peter encouraged his readers to practice hospitality to one another without grumbling.  This admonition signaled at least two things: (1) Christians must show an open and receptive heart to strangers; (2) since churches typically met in homes, members were to warmly welcome the assemblies into their residences.

3.      “As each received a gift, use it to serve one another” (v. 10-11): Believers receive these gifts by the grace of God, and, while the gifts may be developed and nurtured, the presence and power of the gifts comes from God’s grace alone.  The text divides the gifts into two broad categories: gifts of speech and gifts of service.  All of these gracious bestowments must be practiced to the glory of God and not to bring preeminence to the people who practice the gifts.

 

II.                Directives for Enduring the “Fiery Ordeal” (4:12-19): Peter included six imperatives for suffering saints.

A.    “do not be surprised at the fiery trial…” (v. 12):  The apostle called his readers to preparedness.  The fires of persecution should not have caught them off guard.  The test of their faith was nothing out of the ordinary; in fact, these tests come to all disciples of Jesus. Bible students should not press “fiery trial” too far.  This phrase does not necessarily refer to the literal fires of persecution (i.e., burning at the stake); instead, it most likely has a symbolic intent and refers to all forms of trial that may descend upon believers.

B.     “but rejoice…” (vv. 13-14): The suffering saint should rejoice in his hardships because he shares in the sufferings of Christ; and, if he suffers with Christ, he will also receive glory. Furthermore, bearing insults for the sake of the gospel indicates the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

C.     “but let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or a meddler” (v. 15):  Suffering, as such, does not demonstrate godly character; rather, affliction, borne for the sake of Christ, brings the Lord’s affirmation and approval.

D.    “let him not be ashamed” (v. 16a): Human nature blushes in the face of mistreatment, but Peter called his readers to reorder their thinking.

E.     “but let him glorify God” (v. 16b-18): This should, of course, be the Christian’s aim in all life’s circumstances. Judgment will, according to Peter, begin with the people of God.  The final judgment will, for the Christian, be a time of great blessing and glory. 

F.      “let those who suffer according to God’s will, entrust their souls to a faithful Creator (v. 19): Above all, Christian suffering strengthens the believer’s faith.  More and more, they learn to entrust their souls to their faithful Creator.